Crisis, chaos, and utter Brexit complacency

By - Wednesday 7th June, 2017

Has the recent resurrection of Sarah Jones added fuel to the Conservatives’ fire, and can tomorrow’s general election solve any of Croydon’s social issues?

Croydon Central’s candidates.
Photo by Zach Baker for the Croydon Citizen.

Back in October, I remember publicly speaking to an audience at the Community Land Trust’s annual group meeting in East London. I gave a short and sweet speech to address Croydon’s housing crisis, gentrification progress, and how to stimulate the local economy. I remember reiterating facts on house prices that were spiraling out of control, on a year-to-year basis, resulting from the popping-up of new local investment projects. I remember reiterating facts which compared Croydon with gentrified Stratford, and the looming opportunities arriving into the suburban town. We have already noticed the diversification of Croydon; the inward movement of company offices and investment puts the town on the map, with new headquarters for the Body Shop, Superdrug, and HMRC, as well as new tech-hubs.

But I also remember sighting the stunned and unimpressed looks of each listeners’ face, after hearing how local people are being priced-out by its housing market and gentrification projects. Albeit at what expense? The newly opened Boxpark, Croydon’s new social playground, and by the lavish apartment housing developments like Morello East Croydon. There have been clear advantages from the Labour council’s spending and revitalization of Croydon’s grouchy and tedious appearance. The Labour council have heavily financed the creation of swanky shop fronts in West Croydon and on South End High Street, and the refurbishment of the empty Fairfield Halls. Now they’re investing in new slabbed pavements and major infrastructure development, such as the revamp of both West Croydon and East Croydon bus stations (remember the absurd £5.4m bill?).

This time round I want to see more action and less talk on the social issues that deeply disturb the Croydon community

Seemingly, the focus of the Labour council is to finance infrastructure developments before giving the green light to developers. The Westfield and Hammerson ‘Croydon Partnership’ has had permission to re-develop the Whitgift Centre for years now, but no ground has yet been broken. However, I would argue that the council has failed to divert attention onto real issues, for example, rising knife-crime amongst youths, the housing crisis, and homelessness. Evidently, these local issues have trickled down into political debate and action in Croydon, stemming from their dominant national agenda at a time of Brexit backlash. Local activists like me who have campaigned for a rejuvenated Croydon are the key ingredients to placing the living wage and housing crisis onto national government agenda. I campaigned alongside Citizens UK to demand greater action and scrutiny to fundamental issues that dominate local politics right now.

The prime minister’s snap election therefore, generates a climate of doubt amongst voters to whether these real issues can be solved by the competency and community-enthused personalities who stand for a rematch to grab the most marginal seat in the UK.  The rematch is between incumbent parliamentarian Gavin Barwell and Labour candidate Sarah Jones. This time round I want to see more action and less talk on the social issues that deeply disturb the Croydon community. I believe the recent resurrection of Sarah Jones and her adversarial policy pledges adds anti-Tory fuel to the Conservatives’ fire.

Crisis and chaos

The political policies of both candidates equally intend to alleviate the social crises facing residents through policy-talk. On housing, Gavin has so far pledged to combat the crisis by executing out the Community Land Trust project at affordable prices (Citizens UK’s flagship policy), and banning letting agents’ fees that hinder movement within the private rental market. In a recent BBC Radio 5 Interview, Gavin reiterated the pledge to influence the local council to increase housing developments on derelict brownfield sites, enhance the current supply of private housing to push back down demand levels and rental prices, and decentralize more funds into the borough from the London Mayor’s budget. On the issue of youth knife-crime, Gavin’s manifesto promises to implement local preventative programmes through schools, thus improving education amongst the younger population of the dangers of possessing and utilizing knives violently.

Nonetheless, the policy-talk of local public services clearly distracts voters away from Westminster’s austerity record. Gavin soothes and clouds voters away from claims of declining local education and healthcare funding, through asserting he will promise local NHS and education services with a fairer share of public funding from the national budget. He claims he secured funding for the new A&E department at Croydon University Hospital.

Sarah, meanwhile, displays ambiguity in her local campaign. Sarah legitimizes the affordability rhetoric, instead of attacking the focus on private housing and signposting Corbyn’s social housing policies. The pledge to fix an alleged broken housing market is induced quite plainly: ‘Invest in homes people can afford’, which lacks policy-making substance. However, the necessity of housing as a fundamental human right should appeal to voters. The lack of local policy-making substance clearly illustrates a campaign is being fought by relying on the Labour Party’s national manifesto pledges to reverse Conservative cuts and promote the protection and funding of public services. The pledge to reverse Barwell’s cuts to schools and policies fuels the Conservatives’ fire and is heated by greater deficit spending.


The consensus to tackle the chaos created by Southern Rail and exacerbated by its infuriated commuters is another policy area that continues to dominate the general election in London. Local commuters travelling into Central London and Southern England are confronted unsurprisingly with the increasing cost of living, which is exemplified by increased train fares and inadequate standards. Does Labour’s pledge to renationalise the railways, long popular in opinion polls, in fact aid the Conservatives? Or has support for the Tory privatization agenda began to wane? Declining public satisfaction in recent months suggest the latter, but Gavin’s commitment to promoting the living wage in Croydon could ensure travel becomes more affordable.

Utter Brexit complacency

Both candidates were disappointed by the EU referendum results last June, and both seem to reject the utter Brexit complacency given off by the typical Leaver who is optimistic for Brexit. Withdrawal from the EU is a threat to Gavin and Sarah’s commitment to focus on a strong local economy. Last June, a majority of Croydon voters voted to remain within the EU, but both candidates are committed to sticking with Brexit and getting the best deal for constituents who want their voices heard.

The general election rematch in Croydon Central enhances my confidence and enthusiasm that politicians this time round will address and surmount the various issues affecting this cosmopolitan borough. This time, younger voters like me can decide the fate of politicians, influence major decisions on Brexit and local issues, and of course shape the policy direction of local candidates.

Daniel Deefholts

Daniel Deefholts

Daniel is a life-long Croydon resident, and regularly campaigns for London Citizens (Citizens UK) to address community issues within London and across the UK. He is studying at university towards a BA (Hons) in Politics and International Relations, and is a committed party member of the Conservative Party.

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